Holy Judge or Cosmic Cupcake?

Modern Man often misrepresents God as being all love and forgiveness, but, beware, for the Bible reveals a holy Judge who hates the sin we find comfortable.

Today’s Reading

Ezekiel 7-9; Hebrews 10:24-39

Selected Verses

Then he said to me, “The guilt of the house of Israel and Judah is exceedingly great. The land is full of blood, and the city full of injustice. For they say, ‘The Lord has forsaken the land, and the Lord does not see.’ As for me, my eye will not spare, nor will I have pity; I will bring their deeds upon their heads.” Ezekiel 9:9-10

How much worse punishment, do you think, will be deserved by the one who has trampled underfoot the Son of God, and has profaned the blood of the covenant by which he was sanctified, and has outraged the Spirit of grace?  For we know him who said, “Vengeance is mine; I will repay.” And again, “The Lord will judge his people.”  It is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God. Hebrews 10:29-31

Reflections

Ezekiel was sent to proclaim the wrath and judgment of God upon Israel and Judah. Why was He angry with them? They had committed abominable acts of idolatry and murderous injustice growing bold in their sin. They were sure that God had departed from them and did not see what they were doing. The Apostle Paul would later ask: “Do you suppose, O man…that you will escape the judgment of God? [See  Romans 2:3-5.] The people of Israel and Judah certainly assumed that they would escape the judgment of God. They could not see that by their sin they were storing up wrath against themselves and going spiritually blind because of their hard and impenitent hearts. The more they sinned the more comfortable they felt sinning.

The writer to the Hebrews issues a stern warning to his readers. Some of them are tottering on the edge of drifting away from the gospel, their only hope of salvation. Could they not see what they were doing? Didn’t they recognize that they were not merely adjusting to the pressures of life in a hostile society but were about to bring themselves under God’s judgment with those who had trampled underfoot the Son of God? Were they not terrified to profane the blood of the covenant by which Jesus was sanctified? Did it seem nothing to outrage the Spirit of grace?

Think about it

God will judge.  He will repay. Satan blinds the eyes of those who sin and glibly say “the Lord does not see.” Flee the company of those with hard and impenitent hearts. Repent of all known sin. Believe in Jesus and find forgiveness. You can only be saved by faith in Him, but you will be lost if, without Christ, you “fall into the hands of the living God.” He is no cosmic cupcake.

Choose your Preacher

The character of a man or woman is revealed in their response to wise instruction.  The wise listen to wisdom and act.  Fools choose foolishness.

Today’s reading

Proverbs 9-10; First Corinthians 15:1-32

Selected Verses

Give instruction to a wise man, and he will be still wiser;
teach a righteous man, and he will increase in learning.
The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom,
and the knowledge of the Holy One is insight.  Proverbs 9:9-10

Now I would remind you, brothers, of the gospel I preached to you, which you received, in which you stand,  and by which you are being saved, if you hold fast to the word I preached to you—unless you believed in vain.  First Corinthians 15:1-2

Reflections

The writer of Proverbs addresses the wise and the foolish. Like the sower in Jesus’ parable, he puts out the truth and it falls on good soil and bears fruit or on rocky, thorny soil and produces nothing (Luke 8:4-15). The difference is not in the message taught, but in the receptivity of the hearer.

But are we to be receptive to every self-appointed expert, every professor of “truth”? How will we know who to trust? We will know if we fear the Lord. The true teacher fears the Lord and teaches the fear of the Lord. Anyone who teaches otherwise is certainly not from God.

Paul was a faithful teacher and apostle of Jesus Christ. In his letter to the Corinthians, he reminds them that he passed on to them what he had received, the gospel of Jesus Christ who died for our sins, was buried, rose again the third day, and was seen by Peter, the twelve, and five hundred more. Paul was a reliable preacher of the truth. The Corinthians had been listening to fools masquerading as wise. Someone (or more than one)  told them there was no resurrection. The Apostle quickly lists many strong arguments against this false doctrine.  The historical reality of the resurrection of Christ is foundational to the gospel which is the basis for their faith and salvation.

Will Paul’s readers respond positively to his corrections? They will if they are wise. They will if they fear the Lord.

Think about it

How do you assess the wisdom of those to whom you listen?  Set your heart to fear God and to gain the knowledge of the Holy One. Choose your teachers and preachers carefully. Be sure they themselves qualify as wise, God-fearers before paying them any attention.

The Importance of Seeking Wisdom

Wisdom and understanding which leads to the true knowledge of God and a proper fear of the Lord are keys to a blessed life. But can we attain this?

Today’s reading

Proverbs 1-2; First Corinthians 12

Selected Verses

If you seek it like silver
and search for it as for hidden treasures,
then you will understand the fear of the Lord
and find the knowledge of God.  Proverbs 2:4-5

Therefore I want you to understand that no one speaking in the Spirit of God ever says “Jesus is accursed!” and no one can say “Jesus is Lord” except in the Holy Spirit. First Corinthians 12:3

Reflections

The book of Proverbs instructs God’s people in wise living, but it is not a self-help book.  Many self-help books assume that we are alone in the universe, answerable to no one but ourselves, and without any God to guide or assist us.  But the Proverbs continually tell us to fear God as the key to wisdom and understanding (1:7).  So fearing God leads to understanding, but understanding leads us back to the fear of God.   Yes, this is circular reasoning, but it proves itself true in life.  All reasoning is ultimately circular because one must presuppose one or more assumptions that cannot be proven. We assume that there is a God, the Eternal One who created all things and that He has revealed Himself in Scripture and in creation.

Proverbs reminds us that God controls all things and that He is just.  His holiness is reflected here in a clear distinction between good and evil and right and wrong which shows the application of the moral law or Ten Commandments (Exodus 20; Deuteronomy 5) to everyday life and relationships.

Paul urges the Corinthians to get informed and to gain understanding to help them in their lives and fractured relationships.  He teaches them how to view themselves as a body with many members.  Thus, they need to accept their own diverse gifts and to accept one another.  They are members of the body of Christ called to glorify Him (First Corinthians 6:15-20).  He has also taught them that their body is the temple of the Holy Spirit given to them by God.  By the Spirit, they cannot but confess, “Jesus is Lord!”  To curse Christ is clear evidence of not having that Spirit.  On the contrary, all who have the Spirit of God will confess that Jesus is our wisdom from God, righteousness, sanctification, and redemption (First Corinthians 1:30).

Think about it

Wisdom and understanding which leads to the true knowledge of God and a proper fear of the Lord are keys to a blessed life.  But we are not left to raise ourselves by our own bootstraps.    It is the Holy Spirit who gives us this understanding and the ability to love and praise the Lord Jesus Christ.  Seek Him and His wisdom, the One in Whom are found all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge (Colossians 2:1-3).

The Danger of Forsaking the Fear of the Almighty

When people lose their reverent fear of God, they are capable of all manner of atrocities toward other human beings made in His image.

Today’s Reading

Job 4-6; Acts 7:20-43

Selected Verses

He who withholds kindness from a friend forsakes the fear of the Almighty.  Job 6:14

This is the Moses who said to the Israelites, “God will raise up for you a prophet like me from your brothers.”  Acts 7:37

Reflections

Job’s friends sat quietly with him. They listened when he finally broke his silence. Then Eliphaz spoke. He lectured about God’s discipline of His children assuming that Job deserved to be corrected. He missed the truth and failed to comfort his suffering friend. Job responded with continued lament for his condition but then complained about the lack of support from his friends. He considered that Eliphaz had withheld kindness from a friend.

How can anyone cold-heartedly turn his back on a loved one in his moment of extreme anguish? Why wouldn’t common decency make a person feel sympathy towards even a complete stranger in dire straits? Job says these attitudes are proof of having forsaken the fear of the Almighty. It takes extreme arrogance to think that the Omnipotent God of Creation and Providence could never bring him to the same condition. One has to be overly self-assured and proud to feel immune from God’s powerful hand.

The authorities that examined Stephen in Acts 7 seem to have a similar problem. They accuse him falsely and demand an explanation, but they are about to get more than they bargained for. Stephen is giving them a summary of the history of Israel, tracing the theme of their rebellion against Moses, God’s chosen leader.  Moses, whom they accuse Stephen of blaspheming, foretold that a prophet like himself would be sent to them. But these leaders continue the policies of their forefathers, rejecting the ones whom God sends to deliver them. They, like Eliphaz, have forsaken the fear of God.

Think about it

What part does the fear of God play in your life? Does fear of God drive you to confession of sin, of eager obedience, and of love for others? Fear of God is not an outdated, Old Testament concept, but is part of the mindset that has been renewed by God. Peter wrote, “Live as people who are free, not using your freedom as a cover-up for evil, but living as servants of God. Honor everyone. Love the brotherhood. Fear God. Honor the emperor.” (I Peter 2:16-17).  Practice those things and never forsake the fear of the Almighty.

Emotional Engagement

The life of faith is not a cold, intellectual exercise.  The presence of God manifested by His mighty works brings deep emotional engagement to the believer.

Today’s Reading

Nehemiah 1-3; Acts 2:1-13

Selected Verses

O Lord, let your ear be attentive to the prayer of your servant, and to the prayer of your servants who delight to fear your name, and give success to your servant today, and grant him mercy in the sight of this man.”  Nehemiah 1:11

And at this sound the multitude came together, and they were bewildered, because each one was hearing them speak in his own language.  And they were amazed and astonished, saying, “Are not all these who are speaking Galileans?”  Acts 2:6-7

Reflections

News of the ruined walls of his beloved Jerusalem devastated Nehemiah.  True, Cyrus had ordered the rebuilding of the temple. Exiles had been allowed to return to do that work.  Now, decades later, Nehemiah learns that the city is defenseless.  He goes to God in prayer, a prayer that reveals his deep knowledge of the Lord.  Nehemiah mentions a fascinating characteristic of God’s servants that they delight to fear His name.

When the Holy Spirit comes upon the disciples gathered together on the day of Pentecost, suddenly they begin to preach to the crowds in various languages.  And the people are able to understand them perfectly.   God was manifesting Himself at that time and place through His apostles.  The work of God, so dramatically revealed, stirred up all kinds of emotions in these devout men: bewilderment, amazement, astonishment, and perplexity.

Think about it

Do you think of a committed Christian as one who is cold and stoic?  We see in Scripture that believers most certainly feel deeply the power and presence of God. Do you think of fear as being antithetical to delight?  “How can someone delight to fear God’s name?” you may ask.  Yet the knowledge of Almighty God brings a proper fear and awe to the heart of the believer that is joyful.  The fear comes because we know Him to be Almighty, but that knowledge is also accompanied by joy in knowing that He can and will fulfill His Word and keep us safe until He gets us home to glory.  Fear God.  Delight in the fear of Him.  Be amazed.  Enjoy emotional engagement with God. Just don’t be cold.

Fear: when is it good and when it is not?

Fear may be good or bad depending on the cause of that fear. Jesus explains the difference for all who are His disciples.

Today’s Reading

I Samuel 1-3; Luke 12:1-34

Selected Verses

Therefore the Lord, the God of Israel, declares: “I promised that your house and the house of your father should go in and out before me forever,” but now the Lord declares: “Far be it from me, for those who honor me I will honor, and those who despise me shall be lightly esteemed.”  I Samuel 2:30

But I will warn you whom to fear: fear him who, after he has killed, has authority to cast into hell. Yes, I tell you, fear him! Are not five sparrows sold for two pennies? And not one of them is forgotten before God. Why, even the hairs of your head are all numbered. Fear not; you are of more value than many sparrows.  Luke 12:5-7

Reflections

Contrary to popular opinion, what matters in life is how you are valued by God and how you are valued by God depends on whether you fear Him properly.

As high priest, Eli held a distinguished position in ancient Israel as he ministered in the tabernacle.  Eli  knew the law of God and the rituals associated with sacrifices and intercession before God.  But he was an indulgent father.  He allowed his sons to misuse their positions to satisfy their physical appetites for food and promiscuous sex.  God held Eli responsible for dishonoring Him. Judgment was about to come upon him, his sons, and his posterity.  He showed more fear of his sons than he did of God.

Jesus warned His disciples about the right and wrong kinds of fear.  You should not fear anyone whose greatest power is to kill your body, He told them.  You should fear the One who has authority to send you to hell.  God deserves to be feared above all others.  Yet He is the One who watches over sparrows.  He is the One who numbers the hairs of your head.  You are of much greater value than a sparrow.

Think about it

What are you afraid of?  Do you fear being forgotten?  Overlooked? Having a meaningless existence then dying in obscurity?  If you are God’s child, He will not forget or overlook you.  Are you afraid of being caught, tortured, and executed for your faith?  Fear not.  God has power over your eternal destiny.  All your enemy can do is kill you and inadvertently send you into the bosom of Abraham.

Fear God, but also trust God if you know Him.

Fear: is it good or bad?

Fear.  Is it good or bad?  It depends.  Fear can bring wisdom and or it can debilitate.  Learn the difference in today’s reading.

Today’s reading:

Joshua 1-3; Luke 1:57-80

Selected Verses

Before the men lay down, she came up to them on the roof  and said to the men, “I know that the Lord has given you the land, and that the fear of you has fallen upon us, and that all the inhabitants of the land melt away before you. Joshua 2:8-9

That we, being delivered from the hand of our enemies, might serve him without fear.  Luke 1:74

Reflections

Rahab, the prostitute of Jericho, makes a most eloquent statement about the Lord, the God of Israel whom the people of her land have come to fear. They know how God has led the people for forty years out of Egypt and through the wilderness. The Israelites have had successful military confrontations. In vivid terms she describes the inhabitants of the land as “melting away” before Israel and their God.

When Zechariah and Elizabeth’s baby boy was born, Elizabeth announced that his name was John.  Her decision contradicted the custom stipulating that babies were always named for family members. Zechariah, still mute, wrote his agreement to the name on a tablet. Immediately, he was able to speak, but the people were overcome by fear. They saw the hand of God in this.

Zechariah, with his regained ability to talk, began giving praise to God. He prophesied about the ministry of his son in glowing but not exaggerated terms. God’s purposes were to deliver His people from their enemies so that they might serve Him without fear, that is, without fear of their enemies.

Think about it

What place does fear have in your life? There is a proper fear of God which is “clean, enduring forever” and brings true wisdom (Psalm 19:9; Proverbs 9:10).   God’s people fear Him in a reverent, healthy way, but they are not to be afraid of their enemies whom He has defeated. After all, God has already decreed victory for those who are His. The places where the sole of Joshua’s foot was going to tread had already been given to him (Joshua 1:3). Fear God. Do not fear His and your enemies. The land is already yours. Serve Him today confident of His ultimate victory.

The Fearsome Presence of God

God teaches His people repeatedly that He is both fearsome and trustworthy. Will we ever learn that though awesome He is for us who know Him through Christ?

Today’s reading

Numbers 16-17; Mark 6:33-56

Selected Verses

And the people of Israel said to Moses, “Behold, we perish, we are undone, we are all undone.  Everyone who comes near, who comes near to the tabernacle of the Lord, shall die. Are we all to perish?”  Numbers 17:12-13

For they all saw him and were terrified. But immediately he spoke to them and said, “Take heart; it is I. Do not be afraid.”  Mark 6:50

Reflections

As we have seen, God who created all things also maintains constant contact with His creation and with His creatures whether they are conscious of Him or not.  In both biblical history as well as my personal experience, it is evident that we easily forget that God is there all the time every day.  We grow comfortable with attitudes of pride and acts of presumption as if there were no God to whom we must answer. We turn to our own resources to solve our problems rather than seeking His guidance and power.

Korah and his party in the wilderness rebelled against God’s appointed leader Moses.  They had time to repent but no inclination to do so.  They died an horrific death.  Then God gave them another sign of His choice of Aaron to head the priesthood by making Aaron’s staff to bud as the staffs of the other tribes remained dry sticks.

The people of Israel recognized that they were “undone” and that they were all in danger of perishing for their persistent rebellion.  God revealed His presence and taught them to fear Him.

When the disciples saw Jesus walking on the water, they were terrified.  The Lord immediately reassured them that it was Him.  God again revealed His presence and taught the disciples to fear Him but also to trust Him.

Think about it

The lesson of God’s fearsome presence is one that the Israelites and the disciples would have to re-learn.  I suspect that you and I will have to re-learn it too.  Yet we who know Christ  have assurance and comfort that we are God’s own adopted children and that He is merciful and gracious to us.

Be aware of God’s presence in your life today.  He is fearsome, but He is on our side (Romans 8:31). Thank Him for His patience with us who must re-learn these lessons.

Heart Responses to God

Today’s reading

Exodus 7-8; Matthew 17

Selected Verses

But Pharaoh hardened his heart this time also, and did not let the people go. Exodus 8:32

He was still speaking when, behold, a bright cloud overshadowed them, and a voice from the cloud said, “This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased; listen to him.”  When the disciples heard this, they fell on their faces and were terrified.  Matthew 17:5-6

Reflections

The God of the Bible has revealed Himself in human history, but the responses are mixed. Some, like Pharaoh, harden their hearts. Others, like Peter, James, and John, fall on their faces terrified.

Pharaoh saw God’s power bringing plagues upon him and the nation. In the first two instances, his magicians were successful in reproducing the same results. With the third plague, the magicians failed to produce gnats and concluded that it is “the finger of God.” In the fourth case, there is no mention of the magicians even attempting to compete with God’s power. Despite the increasing intensity of the plagues, Pharaoh kept hardening his heart.

The disciples on the mountain with Jesus also saw wondrous things. Jesus was transfigured. His face and garments shone with intense light. Moses and Elijah appeared. Starring at this sight, Peter starts babbling about making tents for each of them. Then he and the other disciples hear the voice of God. The starring and babbling ends and they fall in terror before God.

How do you account for these contrasting responses to displays of God’s power and presence? God hardens Pharaoh’s heart, but does a gracious work in the hearts of the disciples. Believers in biblical history always fall before God’s revelation of Himself. Unbelievers, like Pharaoh, merely shrug off the evidence of God’s presence and power as if it were a mere coincidence. To Pharaoh, the plagues were an inconvenience, not a sign indicating that the eternal, omnipotent God was near.

Think about it

How do you respond to God’s revelation of Himself?  If you believe, you will have a proper fear of Him, not horror that makes you run from Him but awe that causes you to fall before Him in worship and reverence.

Fear God for His majesty and power in creation and providence. Fear God for, as the Westminster Shorter Catechism (Q. 4) says, He is “a spirit, infinite, eternal, and unchangeable, in his being, wisdom, power, holiness, justice, goodness and truth.”  Praise God if He has given you, not a hardened heart, but a tender, believing heart that fears Him.

Fearful Followers Reassured

Today’s reading

Genesis 31-32; Matthew 10:24-42

Selected verses

Then Jacob was greatly afraid and distressed. He divided the people who were with him, and the flocks and herds and camels, into two camps,  thinking, “If Esau comes to the one camp and attacks it, then the camp that is left will escape.”

Genesis 32:7-8

 And do not fear those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. Rather fear him who can destroy both soul and body in hell.

Matthew 10:28

Reflections

In both readings today, we meet people who are called by God to enter uncharted territory and are understandably fearful of what looms ahead.

Although Jacob has seen God grant him material success and a peaceful parting with Laban, he is more than a little anxious about meeting Esau after so many years.  A man appears to Jacob at night and wrestles with him.  We understand the mysterious, unnamed man to be the Angel of the Lord as clarified in Hosea 12:2-6.

God is gracious to Jacob to send His angel to bless him when he most needed reassurance.

Jesus also talks to His disciples about fear.  He is sending them out as His messengers, into a hostile world.  They will naturally tend to be fearful, but Whom should they fear?  Not someone who can only kill their bodies and then have no further power.  Not an Esau, who might be holding a grudge after 20 years.  Jesus tells the twelve to fear God, the One who has power over our eternal destiny.

Jacob learns that God is with him as he goes back to his home land and his brother.  The disciples learn that God will be with them and keep their souls even if their ministry arouses rejection and death.

Think about it

In a sense, every new day presents uncharted territory for us even when life seems predictable and routine.  How confident are you of God’s power to keep you wherever He sends you and in whatever He calls you to do?  Do not fear Man, not if by faith in Christ you have eternal life and you are ready to die. Don’t deny real danger but replace the fear of Man with the fear of God.  He will be with His own to the end.